Weekend Reads (May 20): “Alf,” The CW, MTV News, Projekt Records, TikTok, Tim Keller (RIP)
Recommended weekend reading material for May 20, 2023.
Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.
If you’re my age, then you probably watched a few episodes of ALF back in the day. But if you were to rewatch it now, you might find that it doesn’t quite match your memories — quite literally, in one case.
After the show aired, NBC was bombarded with complaints from parents and, according to show co-creator Paul Fusco in a 2007 interview, the complaints weren’t unwarranted: at least one child tried to replicate the whirlpool in his own home. Per Fusco, the child wasn’t harmed, but the network all but forced him to reshoot the opening scene for syndication. So he did, as seen in the full episode, here. Instead of holding an electric mixer, ALF uses a regular hand mixer (seen here) — but he still fails to avoid injury. In the reshot version, ALF slips in the tub, hits his head, and again, loses his memory.
I’m so glad that YouTube and the internet exists to chronicle the truth of mildly amusing but ultimately forgettable sitcoms from the ’80s.
Decider’s Alex Zalben elegizes The CW, which was acquired by Nexstar Media Group last October. In the months following Nexstar’s acquisition, the network’s entire lineup has undergone a massive shakeup.
It’s too late for The CW to correct any mistakes because The CW is all but gone. In its wake it will leave a legion of devoted fans, and perhaps even more importantly, an entire generation of creators who got their start in the business working on shows for the network. What the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is striking about right now is what The CW, through its producing partners like Warner Bros. Television and CBS, provided… An actual training ground for creators to move up the ranks and get a shot at learning how television works. As the industry continues to squeeze out creators in favor of automation and genericized content, The CW looked to the models of the past to help foster the writers, directors, and actors of the future.
Alexis Ong looks at how the internet has been historically portrayed in films and TV series like Hackers, Murder, She Wrote, and The X-Files.
The most striking thing about watching old internet and cyberculture-themed shows is that going online, from the ’70s through the ’90s, was a conscious, deliberate decision made by firing up the modem and logging on — something that became easier and far more intuitive and taken for granted after ethernet became a standard that would drive our relationship with computers. The internet became fuel for the Hollywood imagination, from the 1983 classic WarGames to dystopian horrors like Mindwarp, where people were permanently plugged into VR and ruled over by a supercomputer. Last year, Alissa Wilkinson examined how Videodrome was one of the earliest films to really anticipate the way we withdraw from the kind of connectivity that we now associate with the experience of Being Online.
Earlier this month, MTV News was shut down for good after 36 years. (Raise your hand if you didn’t know that MTV News was still a thing.) The Hollywood Reporter interviewed Kurt Loder, Tabitha Soren, and others to get an oral history of the cable news network and their impression of the events they covered, like 9/11.
The real moment where it shifted was 9/11. I walked in on 9/11 and there was [MTV chairwoman] Judy McGrath pacing around near the studio on the ground floor, and she took one look at me and she said, “Put on a clean shirt. You have to go on TV in 10 minutes.” Some of the stuff that we did around that time for our audience is some of the stuff that I’m proudest of in my entire professional career. The people that I did it with are still some of the people that I’m closest with in this world. That’s where, when you talk about something like MTV News leaving the ecosystem, you feel it like a gut punch.
I just remember standing in the news bullpen watching the first tower go down. Ocean was there, a handful of other people. Then the sirens went off in the building to evacuate, and a bunch of us recovered to an apartment really nearby. And we started to get to work and figure out how we were going to explain this to an audience of millions of millennials. How were you going to make sense of the fact that reality had changed?
And courtesy of The Retro, here are the first two hours of MTV, beginning with The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.”
One of the concerns raised by the Hollywood writers who are currently on strike is the impact of AI on their profession. But Linda Codega wonders, could an AI tool like ChatGPT actually turn out a decent script? I think you already know the answer to that question.
Moving past the sheer cringe of the writing, I decided that this was probably the best that ChatGPT could do without huge amounts of tweaking. Screenwriting has a lot of rules, some written, some unwritten, but it has a certain style to it, a cadence. I asked the model to turn this interaction into a script, and what it produced — while it did resemble something vaguely script-shaped — broke just about every rule in the book. It tried to output the exact same scene but reformatted the dialogue, keeping most of the phrasing the same. There was no cutting back and forth, no humor or horror, no movement within the scene, and very little tension. It wasn’t authorial or directorial, it was simply the shape of an idea. It was useless, even for a first draft.
Back in 1998, moviegoers had the option of watching not one, but two films about asteroids threatening to destroy Earth: Deep Impact and Armageddon. But just how scientific were those asteroid movies? Can you really blow up an asteroid with nuclear weapons?
Besides, “blowing up asteroids is harder than most people think,” notes William Bottke, head of the Department of Space Studies at the Southwest Research Institute.
Even if one succeeded at using a nuclear bomb to blow up an asteroid, he says, the heat from the blast would vaporize material on the surface and expand violently, ultimately pushing on the rock and turning it from a very, very fast asteroid, or “bullet,” to a deadly “shotgun blast.”
Via The Retro. I saw Deep Impact in the theater with some friends, and I think we enjoyed it. I can still remember certain scenes (e.g., the tidal wave) but overall, it was pretty forgettable. I still have never seen Armageddon, probably because I got so sick and tired of hearing Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” which served as the film’s theme.
The 2023 Cannes Film Festival is under way. This year’s line-up includes new films from some of the world’s most celebrated directors, including Pedro Almodóvar, Wes Anderson, Trần Anh Hùng, Aki Kaurismäki, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Martin Scorsese, and Wim Wenders.
One of my favorite record labels — Projekt Records — turns 40 this year. Label founder Sam Rosenthal sat down for a brief interview concerning the label’s origins and current direction.
There are very few independent labels that have survived. Especially ones like Projekt where we were not bought or silently funded by a bigger company. I have discovered some really interesting artists over the years: LYCIA, Voltaire, Love Spirals Downwards, Mira… and also been fortunate to work with some of the pioneers of American electronic space music like Steve Roach and Michael Stearns. Being involved in all these peoples music is an achievement for me. I started as a guy with a fanzine who wanted to share music I enjoyed. And that is what I am still doing!
Related: All of my reviews of Projekt’s releases.
Also related: A few years back, Bandcamp profiled Projekt and Rosenthal listed some of the label’s most iconic releases, including Soul Whirling Somewhere’s Eating the Sea, Black Tape for a Blue Girl’s Remnants of a Deeper Purity, and Steve Roach’s Structures From Silence.
Andy Rourke, who famously played bass in The Smiths, died earlier this week after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 59 years old.
Rourke joined The Smiths in 1982, shortly after its formation by Marr and vocalist Morrissey. His nimble basslines were among the signature sounds of the band, his recognizable style hear in songs such as “Rusholme Ruffians,” “The Queen Is Dead” and “Barbarism Begins at Home,” lending an upbeat groove to the band’s jangly post-punk sound. He performed on all four of the group’s studio albums despite briefly being kicked out of the band in 1986 during a bout with heroin addiction, before being brought back in the following year.
Morrissey and Marr tend to get all of the attention when discussing The Smiths, but Lars Gotrich is absolutely right: “To me, the success of The Smiths was how every part of the band mattered. I think Andy Rourke was the first time I really clocked how important the bass could be to the structure of a brilliant pop song.” Just listen to the way that Rourke’s bass floats and glides through a song like “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.” Absolute perfection.
Montana became the first state to ban TikTok due to security and privacy concerns. The ban goes into effect on January 1, 2024.
Prior to signing Montana Senate Bill 419 into law, critics reported that banning TikTok in the state would likely be both technically and legally unfeasible. Technically, since Montana doesn’t control all Internet access in the state, the ban may be difficult to enforce. And legally, it must hold up to First Amendment scrutiny, because Montanans should have the right to access information and express themselves using whatever communications tool they prefer.
While I’m actually sympathetic to the spirit of the legislation — life as we know it would probably improve with fewer social networks — nothing says “I don’t understand how modern technology works” like passing a law that acts as if app store commerce respects state boundaries.
Finally, Tim Keller — the New York-based pastor who started Redeemer Presbyterian Church and became known for his winsome approach to teaching the Bible and sharing the Gospel — died this week from pancreatic cancer. He was 72 years old.
“The gospel is this,” Keller said time and again: “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
Keller was frequently accused — especially in later years — of cultural accommodation. He rejected culture-war antagonism and the “own the libs” approach to evangelism, and people accused him of putting too much emphasis on relevance and watering down or even betraying the truth of Christianity out of a misplaced desire for social acceptance.
But a frequent theme throughout his preaching and teaching was idolatry. Keller maintained that people are broken and they know that. But they haven’t grasped that only Jesus can really fix them. Only God’s grace can satisfy their deepest longings.
My friend Jake has posted a beautiful tribute to Keller’s legacy: “Sometimes we’d talk for an hour. There wasn’t anything in that for him. He was just being a kind man. And I’ll never forget it.”
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